Gifts: A Retrospective
This morning when I opened my eyes, I saw a bird sitting on the roof of the bodega outside my bedroom window—a beautiful yellow-headed, yellow-breasted, shrill-voiced gray bird with a long curved beak; the beak for, I imagine, digging bugs from bark. “Hello, Bird. Hoy es mi cumpleanos,” I told him in approximately adequate Espanol.
Today is my birthday. I want for nothing more than this peaceful day. Several hibiscus are gaudy with bloom. My five “dead” trees are in full leaf. The canna lilies are outdoing themselves. The trim on my casita is freshly painted a deep terra cotta, making my home look like a fairy cottage planted in the midst of a magic garden.
Okay, so my prose is overblown. I’m allowed. It’s my birthday.
After coffee I opened my email. A note from Kathy: “Meeting Colin and kids for lunch today to hear about his and Colin’s hike to Machu Picchu in Peru for Noah’s 16th birthday. The stakes are different today. I think I got a pair of shoes on my 16th. How about you?”
Crotchety old woman that I am, whatever happened to cake and ice cream, a few friends, party favors, modest gifts; party at the celebrant’s home, maybe a simple sleep-over? My grandchildren receive birthday loot that cost more than my kids’ Christmas in total. And the party must be held at an event center—at the least, the bowling alley or skating rink, followed by a restaurant meal for friends and parents. How can the parents afford this? See? I’m crotchety!
Obviously I failed the birthday party chapter of motherhood. I did not, could not, give my children their every heart’s desire. Therefore, true reactionaries, my children swamp their children with everything they themselves wanted and didn’t get. I’m supposed to feel guilt. And they are supposed to spend thousands in therapy getting over my (inadvertent) abuse. (“But, Mom, you should have known how important the Game Boy and my own television was to me.”)
I admit we didn’t make a lot of fuss about birthdays in my family. Growing up without a mother, in many ways, I was the mom. I made all the birthday cakes, selected and wrapped all the gifts, even my own.
One time I had a birthday party, when I turned ten, complete with angel food cake and ice-cream, games I had chosen, such as dropping clothespins into a jar from chair-back height. After games and cake, my girlfriends and I went out to play in the yard. The woods beyond the barn sang a siren’s song. Soon we were playing hide-and-seek among the trees. Meanwhile the parents had arrived to pick up their daughters. The yard was empty.
We weren’t that far away. We weren’t in danger. We were out of shouting distance. I got into serious trouble. That was my one and only birthday party. My gift was four books.
By my sixteenth, neither my Dad nor my sister remembered. My Dad wasn’t mean; he just didn’t think of those things. Out of a misbegotten sullenness, I refused to mention my birthday. I made cakes for my Dad’s and sister’s birthdays, with a perverse pleasure, but I didn’t make myself one. To my shame, I carried that behavior on through high school.
Somewhere along the progression of years, I had a lightbulb “ah-ha” moment. Only one person knows the innermost desires of my heart. Only one person has the impeccable taste to choose what most pleases me. I began buying myself gifts; gifts chosen with love. Then whatever other present I might receive was a delightful bonus, even if the gift was an electric skillet or a ratchet driver set.
Yesterday I went to an artisan shop in Teuchitlan, along the street headed to the Guachimontones pyramids. While carrying a selection of tourist items, this shop caters to those who are looking for special items.
I bought myself two birthday gifts. One is a sculptural rendering of the North Wind. I situated him among my potted plants and re-named him the “Northwest Wind”, According to his direction. The other is a replica of a pre-Hispanic goddess of the corn. She sits among my geraniums.
By the time my kids hit middle school, their birthday ‘cake” of choice was often pie or even cookies. Today I made myself biscuits, simple ordinary biscuits. I ate them with mango jam and drank coffee laced with milk and chocolate.
To answer your question, Kathy, for my 16th I didn’t get a blessed thing. But for my birthday today, I have every gift I could want.
HDN: Looking out my back door
April 13, 2017